Kunming Recreates its Traditional Look

Kunming's modernization began in the 1930s and picked up after the Nationalist government moved west during the Anti-Japanese War and located some of its offices in Kunming. As the city grew the old city walls came down. The last of the old city gates were demolished in 1953.

During the 1990s Kunming underwent rapid modernization in preparation for the city's Expo 99. (See blog post titled 'Down with the Old & Up with the New'). During this time of tearing down, street widening and high-rise construction, the city began to recreate some of its traditional look.

The trend began with the reproduction of two city gates exactly like those demolished in the 1950s. The city has also reproduced a massive gate that was Kunming' main entrance during the Qing Dynasty (1660-1911).

The East Pagoda, one of the city's two ancient pagodas dating from the 800s, survives to the present. The West Pagoda, destroyed four times since its construction, has been rebuilt to match its surviving partner. The drab buildings on the street linking the East and West pagodas were knocked down and replaced with traditional-style shops.

Near Keats School, where we are studying Chinese, the city has renovated in the classical style the old Taoist Temple and a collection of other venerable buildings in the temple compound.

Before the street was widened it passed under a Tibetan-style chorten. Now a smaller version stands on a pedestrian way between the Taoist Temple and the wide and busy street.

In his book, Yunnan, China South of the Clouds, Jim Goodman wrote 'One might bemoan the passing of so much of Kunming's old town and regard the resurrected architecture as not quite authentic. But so many Chinese cities have all but obliterated their pre-modern look that one should be pleased that Kunming chose to recreate at least part of its heritage, rather than leave it all buried forever beneath the foundations of the shiny new skyscrapers.'

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